After being on hiatus the last several years from the LED industry due to personal reasons, a lot seems to have changed in the time I was absent. Most notably the resurgence of SMD panels that are being marketed as "Quantum Boards".
There is nothing new about SMD panels other than their rise to popularity. Back in 2010 we designed our first 50W SMD panel for microgreens. Testing with it went well, growing full sized cherry tomatoes, small peppers and microgreens, so we developed our ECO+ 0.5W SMD line. We sold it to a few commercial microgreen farmers and later discontinued it as the sales were slow in the retail market.
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Now it's 2019 and SMD panels are all the rage. Why? Mostly because of cost, but also because of efficiency. The lower you go in wattage on a LED, the less heat the diode is subjected to which means your efficiency increases. Put plainly: 200pcs 0.5W is more efficient (produces more light per watt) than 100pcs 1W. 300pcs 0.5W is more efficient than 50pcs 3W.
We told people in 2011 when our X-lens was released that it would eventually be made obsolete as LEDs became more and more efficient. Now it's 8 years later and it seems we are nearing the point where our X-lens could become obsolete.
NEW R&D FOR A NEW ERA
Lenses have been both a curse and a blessing for many years. When LEDs weren't as powerful, lenses helped to focus the intensity into a smaller area to bring PPFD high enough to flower plants. Without lenses the earliest LED grow lights would have fallen flat on their faces. But lenses also block about 7% light per layer, and over time the acrylic can degrade causing further losses in output. Once LEDs are powerful enough on their own to deliver 1500 ppfd at 12" without lenses, lenses are no longer necessary.
Hydro Grow has always been an open-source developer, publishing our R&D to the web wherever someone will host us (like ICMag). So I will be sharing with you the R&D that goes into making a new light here at Hydro Grow.
Step 1: Picking the right SMD LED
Right now I have samples being created in 3 different SMD packages: 2835, 3030 and 5730. Testing over the years has shown us that the same chips in different packages lead to different efficiencies, as some packages have better heat sink and optical efficiency than others.
The samples I am preparing have chips supplied by Epistar, EpiLEDs, Optotech, Bridgelux and Osram. I will be getting 2-3 samples of each chip in each wavelength for each of the 3 types of SMD packages. The wavelengths we will be testing are 440nm, 470nm, 525nm, 640nm and 660nm.
The samples will be soldered to Star MCPCBs. Each sample will then be loaded one at a time, into our custom integrating sphere that uses a quantum light (PAR) sensor. Our sphere was developed for one purpose only: relative output measurements. It is not designed to provide umol/joule or similar measurements, only to be able to create and then compare relative data.
The package that provides the best output per dollar is the one we will be choosing to build our new lights. While our focus is to maintain the highest efficiency in all our products, any gains in efficiency have to be justified by price. Prior testing has shown that a LED with 7% better output than our own costs double to purchase. Needless to say most people won't spend double to get 7% more yield.
Step 2: Calibrating our Spectrum
After we have selected our LEDs and recorded the test data of their relative umol output, the next step is to calibrate our G4 spectrum of 75% red, 15% green and 10% blue with a 4:1 ratio of red to far-red. This is done by taking the relative output of each wavelength and then multiplying out how many LEDs we will have at that output compared to the total output of the fixture.
Step 3: Building our Prototype
Once we have calculated out exactly how many of each wavelength we need to calibrate our G4 spectrum, the next step is designing the prototype. In this stage I will be creating a PCB layout of the LEDs where the focus is on equal distribution of spectrum for homogenous blending. The prototype PCB will be created and affixed to a sufficient heat sink, then sent to me for PPFD mapping. If the PPFD mapping shows a higher PAR average than our X3 technology, we will begin fading out the X3 line. We will then replace it with a new generation of SMD 0.5W products for a new era of indoor gardening.
We hope you will follow along with as as we carry out each of these steps and publish our R&D to ICMag.